After interning as a Software Engineer, it has become  imperative to reflect on intended and unintended side effects of the software industry. From using a popular cloud-based communication platform to an email service for work, the effects of software can be intentional, but also unpredictable.

Slack is a cloud-based platform for communication and collaboration within organizations and has been adopted by many technology companies. As an avid user, I find Slack pleasant, easy to use, and very reliable in terms of performance to communicate with members of my company. However, many users of Slack may not know that the idea for the platform resulted from developing a games application (Glitch). The founder of Slack, Stewart Butterfield realized how problematic it was to communicate within the organization and decided there was an opportunity to develop a solution. Thus, while trying to develop one product (games application), Butterfield realized there was a greater need for another product and pivoted.

“This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man – if man is not enslaved by it.”  —Jonas Salk

Slack’s founding story—trying to develop an application for one purpose and then stumbling upon another more pressing problem to solve—is not uncommon. This is how many of the modern technological companies were found, which alludes to Jonas Salk’s quote above. He starts out with a positive tone, insisting our time now in history is “pregnant” and abundant with new innovative technologies. This is accurate because our current technological ecosystem provide an array of communication tools like Slack, Facebook Messenger, Gmail, etc to chose from. Salk, however ends the quote insidiously by suggesting although technology has simplified our day-to-day lives, it has in some ways enslaved us. This negative effect of technology is also accurate as workers are enticed to work additional hours. Tools like Gmail or Slack can be frequently checked for new emails or messages from work.

The ability to reach any employee at any second of the day is a powerful tool for companies. Any problem that arises can be directly communicated to the person and ideally taken care of at that moment. Obviously, this can become exhausting for employees. A 2008 Pew Internet & American Life Project report found that 50% of U.S. employees who use e-mail on the job check their work e-mail on weekends and 34% also so do while on vacation. A multitude of companies have been sued for this matter, expecting employees to reply to emails, like T-Mobile and Version.

While an abundance of tools have emerged with the intent of providing a simple and reliable communication platform, their long-term effects have plagued workers. Slack emerged from developing a games application and realizing the greater need for easy communication. However, companies that adopt Slack and other similar communication platforms may expect their employees to be responsive 24/7. The rise of communication platforms is two fold: accessible and easy communication channels, but also overworked, burned-out, and dissatisfied employees.

Sources: 

https://www.fastcompany.com/3026418/this-story-about-slacks-founder-says-everything-you-need-to-know-about-him

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/overtime-pay-mails-lawsuits-continue/story?id=8366893